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Relations with Other Countries

Japan has diplomatic relations with nearly all independent nations and has been an active member of the UN since December 1956. Its relations with countries other than those discussed earlier are mainly commercial and economic. It has few major political differences with any of them but is under continuing pressure from many to limit its exports and to remove restrictions imposed on the import of foreign goods and capital. It is also being pressed to contribute more to the socioeconomic betterment of the developing nations.

During the 1970s, the government took positive measures to increase its Official Development Assistance (ODA) to developing countries and to contribute to the stabilization of the international trade and monetary system. These measures were generally welcomed abroad, although some countries felt that the steps taken were not executed as rapidly or were not as extensive as similar efforts by some other advanced industrialized nations. Japan's ODA increased tenfold during the decade and stood at US$3.3 billion in 1980, but this ODA as a percentage of GNP was still below the average of other donor countries.

In the 1980s, Japan's ODA continued to rise rapidly. ODA net disbursements, in nominal terms, averaged around US$3 billion per year in the early 1980s and then jumped to US$5.6 billion in 1986 and US$9.1 billion in 1990. Japan's share of total disbursements from major aid donors also grew significantly, from nearly 11.8 percent in 1979 to about 15 percent in the mid-1980s, and later to more than 19 percent in 1989 dropping back to under 17 percent in 1990. Japan's ODA as a percentage of its GNP, however, did not increase substantially during the 1980s, remaining at about 0.3 percent.

Japan continued to concentrate its economic assistance in Asia (about 60 percent of total commitments in 1990), reflecting its historical and economic ties to the region. Japan made modest increases in aid to Africa with the announcement in 1989 of a US$600 million grant program for the next three years. In 1990, Japan also pledged large amounts of assistance to Eastern Europe, but most of that aid was to be in the form of market rate credits and investment insurance, which did not qualify as ODA. In other regions, Japan appeared likely to continue allocating relatively small shares of assistance. Nevertheless, by 1987 Japan had become the largest bilateral donor in twenty-nine countries, nearly double the number in which that had been the case ten years earlier.

The continued growth of Japan's foreign aid appears to be motivated by two fundamental factors. First, Japanese policy is aimed at assuming international responsibilities commensurate with its position as a global economic power. Second, many believed, the growing Japanese foreign aid program comes largely in response to pressure from the United States and other allies for Japan to take on a greater share of the financial burdens in support of shared security, political, and economic interests.

Although cultural and noneconomic ties with Western Europe grew significantly during the 1980s, the economic nexus remained by far the most important element of Japanese-West European relations throughout the decade. Events in West European relations, as well as political, economic, or even military matters, were topics of concern to most Japanese commentators because of the immediate implications for Japan. The major issues centered on the effect of the coming West European economic unification on Japan's trade, investment, and other opportunities in Western Europe. Some West European leaders were anxious to restrict Japanese access to the newly integrated European Union (until November 1993, the European Community), but others appeared open to Japanese trade and investment. In partial response to the strengthening economic ties among nations in Western Europe and to the United States-Canada- Mexico North American Free Trade Agreement, Japan and other countries along the Asia-Pacific rim began moving in the late 1980s toward greater economic cooperation.

On July 18, 1991, after several months of difficult negotiations, Prime Minister Kaifu signed a joint statement with the Dutch prime minister and head of the European Community Council, Ruud Lubbers, and with the European Commission president, Jacques Delors, pledging closer Japanese-European Community consultations on foreign relations, scientific and technological cooperation, assistance to developing countries, and efforts to reduce trade conflicts. Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials hoped that this agreement would help to broaden JapaneseEuropean Community political links and raise them above the narrow confines of trade disputes.

Data as of January 1994

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